by LAUREL LAST and MADELEINE PARA
Leader of the Green Bay chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and Executive Director of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, respectively
For years, our planet has been showing us the need to move away from fossil fuels. Scientists are increasingly able to draw robust connections between human activities and extreme weather events such as heat waves, rainfall, flooding, droughts, storms and wildfires.
These events are also becoming more expensive to recover from. Last month, the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts released its 2021 Assessment Report on Wisconsin’s changing climate, describing the many ways in which our state is being affected.
But today, it’s not just the climate pressuring us to get off fossil fuels: Our geopolitical and economic realities are now demanding the same thing.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was swiftly condemned by world leaders, and President Biden announced a host of sanctions designed to cut Russia out of global economic activity. But at first, Biden stopped short of direct sanctions on energy, partially due to the fact that limiting oil and gas supply would ultimately drive prices up, to Putin’s benefit.
Those higher energy prices would add strain in Europe and here at home at a time when people are already struggling with inflation, so it’s clear that America’s – and the world’s – fossil-fuel dependence has hampered our ability to respond to Russia’s attack.
One Harvard economist pointed out that Russia is incredibly unimportant in the global economy except for oil and gas. Ideally, America and our allies would hit Russia where it really hurts, but because of the global economy’s reliance on fossil fuels, we pulled that punch.
The American Petroleum Institute, a trade association representing American oil and gas producers, jumped to take advantage of this dynamic by renewing its calls for American energy independence. Yes, energy independence is an important goal, but it cannot come through increased domestic oil and gas production.
The U.S. is a net exporter of energy, yet our energy prices are still affected by the actions of other major players such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. So, the “solution” of additional fossil fuels would merely be a swap – an attempt to address one major problem while exacerbating others: climate change and price volatility.
But imagine an America powered by abundant clean energy, leading the world in the transition away from fossil fuels. Our leaders could impose hefty sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas companies because higher fossil-fuel prices wouldn’t hurt us here at home, and global demand for those fossil fuels would be shrinking. Clean energy would mean that our domestic energy prices would be stable and affordable. And of course, clean energy would not dump tons of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, continuing to destabilize our planet’s systems.
Wisconsin would benefit greatly from this clean-energy transition. With no substantial in-state fossil-fuel resources, reliance on fossil fuels is hurting the Wisconsin economy. Transitioning to in-state energy resources would bring dollars and jobs back to the state.
So the question is not, “Should we transition off of fossil fuels?” The only answer to that is yes. Indeed, the E.U. announced last month that it’s taking steps in that direction [“E.U. Will Unveil a Strategy to Break Free from Russian Gas after Decades of Dependence,” The Washington Post, Feb. 23].
The question now is, how can the U.S. make the transition? A well-designed price on carbon is what’s needed.
First, imposing a steadily increasing carbon price would speed the transition to cleaner energy options throughout the entire economy, from the biggest industries down to individual consumers’ choices.
Second, the revenue from the carbon price can be allocated to Americans as a regular dividend or “carbon cashback,” protecting Americans from higher costs and fighting against inflation.
Third, a border carbon adjustment can be used to impose international pressure, which would break the grip of oil states such as Russia.
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said in January, “If you’re serious about climate, put a price on carbon.” We can’t wait any longer for the transition to clean energy, and we have broad agreement on the policy that can get us there. Our climate, our energy prices and the stability of our world are at stake.